UNDERSTANDING LIABILITY INSURER’S TWO DUTIES: TO DEFEND AND TO INDEMNIFY

A liability insurer has two duties that are the crux of a liability policy: the duty to defend the insured in legal actions and the duty to indemnify the insured from losses covered under the policy.  Many times, policyholders (insureds) do not fully understand or appreciate these two important duties. They need to and this is why having private counsel assist with coverage-related considerations is an absolute must.

An insurers’ duty to defend is separate from its duty to indemnify.  A recent opinion out of the Middle District of Florida in Progressive Express Ins. Co. v. Tate Transport Corp., 2022 WL 16963815 (M.D.Fla. 2022) clarifies the distinction between these duties with a focus on an insurer’s initial duty — the duty to defend.  Please read below so you can have more of an appreciation of these duties.  The court does a good job discussing Florida law with the emphasis on when an insurer’s initial duty to defend kicks-in:

Duty to Defend

Under Florida law, “an insurer’s duty to defend its insured against a legal action arises when the complaint alleges facts that fairly and potentially bring the suit within policy coverage.”  The duty to defend is a broad one, broader than the duty to indemnify, and “[t]he merits of the underlying suit are irrelevant.”  We determine whether an insurer has a duty to defend its insured based only on “the eight corners of the complaint and the policy,” and only as the complaint’s alleged facts are “fairly read[.]” The “facts” we consider in evaluating the duty to defend come solely from the complaint, regardless of the actual facts of the case and regardless of any later developed and contradictory factual record.  “Any doubts regarding the duty to defend must be resolved in favor of the insured,” and “where a complaint alleges facts that are partially within and partially outside the coverage of an insured’s policy, the insurer  is not only obligated to defend, but must defend that entire suit[.]” But of course, because the lawsuit must be for something covered by the insurance policy, “the insurer has no duty to defend” when “the pleadings show the applicability of a policy exclusion.”

An insurance policy can, without creating a conflict or ambiguity, both provide coverage and exclude some things that might otherwise fall within that coverage.  On the other hand, an insurance policy’s coverage becomes illusory if it grants coverage in one provision and completely takes it away in another provision. 

Because [insurer] relies on an exclusion to deny coverage, “it has the burden of demonstrating that the allegations of the complaint are cast solely and entirely within the policy exclusion and are subject to no other reasonable interpretation.” 

***

An insurer’s duty to defend an insured in a legal action under Florida law “arises when the complaint alleges facts that fairly and potentially bring the suit within policy coverage.”  Even if the allegations in the complaint are meritless, the duty to defend nonetheless arises. All doubts about whether the duty to defend applies are resolved in favor of the insured.  “If an examination of the allegations of the complaint leaves any doubt regarding the insurer’s duty to defend, the issue is resolved in favor of the insured.” 

Progressive Express Insurance, supra, at *3-5 (internal citations omitted).

Duty to Indemnify

“While the duty to defend is broad and based on the allegations in the complaint, the duty to indemnify is determined by the facts adduced at trial or during discovery.” 

Therefore, unlike the duty to defend, the trial court must look beyond the allegations in the underlying complaint to decide whether an insurer has a duty to indemnify. The duty to indemnify arguably may not become fully ripened until the merits of the underlying litigation are resolved.

Progressive Express Insurance, supra, at *6 (internal citations omitted)

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

HOW YOU PLEAD ALLEGATIONS TO TRIGGER LIABILITY INSURER’S DUTIES IS CRITICAL

How you plead allegations in your lawsuit to trigger duties of a liability insurance carrier is a critical consideration.  If the complaint is not pled appropriately, it can result in the carrier NOT owing a duty to defend its insured, which is the party(ies) you are suing. If there is no duty to defend, there will be no duty to indemnify the insured to cover your damages.  For this reason, in a number of circumstances, this is NOT what you want because you want to trigger insurance coverage and potential proceeds to be paid by a carrier to cover your damages. There are times when you are confronted with a case that just is not a good insurance coverage case.  This may result in you coming up with creative arguments to maximize insurance coverage.  Even in these times, you want to plead the complaint to best maximize coverage under the creative arguments you have developed.

An example of not pleading allegations in a complaint to trigger an insurer’s duties can be found in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision in Tricon Development of Brevard, Inc. v. Nautilus Insurance Co., 2021 WL 4129373 (11th Cir. 2021).   This case involved a general contractor constructing condominiums.  The general contractor hired a subcontractor to fabricate and install metal railings.  The subcontractor had a commercial general liability (CGL) policy that named the general contractor as an additional insured with respect to liability for property damage “caused in whole or in part” by the subcontractor’s direct or vicarious acts or omissions.  (This is a good additional insured endorsement.)

A dispute arose as to defective work by the subcontractor in fabricating and installing the railings.  The general contractor, therefore, engaged another subcontractor to fabricate new railings and remove the current railing to install the new ones. The general contractor submitted a claim to its original railing subcontractor’s insurer.  The insurer denied the claim and the general contractor filed a coverage action against the insurer as an additional insured under the CGL policy.

The problem, however, is that the general contractor’s complaint did not appear to truly consider insurance coverage, although it appeared to be a case where insurance coverage was not a great option.   The Eleventh Circuit explained there was no coverage based on the allegations in the complaint:

Here, [the general contractor] alleges that the subcontractor’s railings were deficient due to having defects and damage, not being installed properly, and not satisfying the project’s specifications; it does not allege that the subcontractor’s faulty workmanship damaged otherwise non-defective components of the project…. Thus, the costs that [the general contractor] incurred in removing the subcontractor’s railings and the fabrication and installation of new railings do not constitute “property damage” under the policies….

Tricon Development of Brevard at *2.

This is obviously not what the general contractor wanted and had it pled allegations differently, the outcome may have turned out different.  Although, the general contractor may have been faced with trying to come up with a creative argument recognizing it was not a great insurance coverage action.

Nonetheless, the Eleventh Circuit, finding there was no insurance coverage, includes a worthy paragraph when it comes to property damage in a construction defect/damage dispute so that parties recognize CGL policies do not cover defective workmanship. Take note of this discussion so that you can ensure allegations are pled to best maximize coverage:

The policies at issue in this appeal are post-1986 standard form commercial general liability policies with products-completed operations hazard coverage, which are governed by Florida law. We have held that such policies do not cover the costs of replacing defective products. In Amerisure Mutual Insurance Company v. Auchter Company, we examined a post-1986 standard form commercial general liability policy with products-completed operations hazard coverage. That policy “define[d] ‘property damage’ as ‘physical injury to tangible property, including all resulting loss of use of that property … or … loss of use of tangible property that is not physically injured.’ ” 673 F.3d 1294, 1298 (11th Cir. 2012) (cleaned up). Applying Florida law, we held that “there is no coverage if there is no damage beyond the faulty workmanship, i.e., unless the faulty workmanship has damaged some otherwise nondefective component of the project.” Id. at 1306 (citing U.S. Fire Ins. Co. v. J.S.U.B., Inc., 979 So.2d 871, 889 (Fla. 2007)). We also held that “if a subcontractor is hired to install a project component and, by virtue of his faulty workmanship, installs a defective component, then the cost to repair and replace the defective component is not ‘property damage.’ ” Id. (citing Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Pozzi Window Co., 984 So.2d 1241, 1248 (Fla. 2008)). We further held that “nondefective and properly installed raw materials can constitute a defective project component when the contract specifications call for the use of different materials, yet the cost to reinstall the correct materials is not ‘property damage’—even though the remedy for such a nonconformity is to remove and replace that component of the project.” Id. (citing Pozzi, 984 So.2d at 1248).

Tricon Development of Brevard at *2.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

INSURER’S DUTY TO INDEMNIFY NOT RIPE UNTIL UNDERLYING LAWSUIT AGAINST INSURED RESOLVED

A liability insurer has two duties:  1) the duty to defend its insured; and 2) the duty to indemnify its insured.

With respect to the second duty – the duty to indemnify – this duty is typically “not ripe for adjudication unless and until the insured or putative insured has been held liable in the underlying action.” Hartford Fire Ins Co. v. Beazer Homes, LLC, 2019 WL 5596237, *2 (M.D.Fla. 2019) (internal quotation omitted).

For instance, Beazer Homes involved an insurance coverage dispute stemming from construction defects.  An owner sued its general contractor for construction defects relating to stucco problems.  The general contractor paid for the repairs.   The general contractor then sued its stucco subcontractor to recover the costs it incurred.  The subcontractor tendered the defense of the lawsuit to its commercial general liability insurer which is defending its insured-subcontractor under the commonly issued reservation of rights.

During the pendency of the general contractor’s lawsuit against its subcontractor, the subcontractor’s commercial general liability insured filed an action for declaratory relief in federal court seeking a declaration as to whether it owes its subcontractor a duty to indemnify.  The issue was whether this action for declaratory relief was ripe since there was no adjudication against the insured-subcontractor in the general contractor’s lawsuit against the subcontractor.   The Middle District Court of Florida held that it was not ripe: “The Eleventh Circuit agreed that an insurer’s duty to indemnify is not ripe until the underlying lawsuit is resolved.”  Beazer Homes, 2019 WL at *2 (internal quotation omitted)

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

LIABILITY INSURER’S DUTY TO DEFEND INSURED IS BROADER THAN ITS DUTY TO INDEMNIFY

When it comes to liability insurance, an insurer’s duty to defend its insured from a third-party claim is much broader than its duty to indemnify.   This broad duty to defend an insured is very important and, as an insured, you need to know this.   “A liability insurer’s obligation, with respect to its duty to defend, is not determined by the insured’s actual liability but rather by whether the alleged basis of the action against the insurer falls within the policy’s coverage.”  Advanced Systems, Inc. v. Gotham Ins. Co., 44 Fla. L. Weekly D996b (Fla. 3d DCA 2019) (internal quotation omitted).  This means:

 

Even where the complaint alleges facts partially within and partially outside the coverage of a policy, the insurer is nonetheless obligated to defend the entire suit, even if the facts later demonstrate that no coverage actually exists.  And, the insurer must defend even if the allegations in the complaint are factually incorrect or meritless.  As such, an insurer is obligated to defend a claim even if it is uncertain whether coverage exists under the policy.  Furthermore, once a court finds that there is a duty to defend, the duty will continue even though it is ultimately determined that the alleged cause of action is groundless and no liability is found within the policy provisions defining coverage.

Advanced Systems, supra(internal citations and quotations omitted).

 

In Advanced Systems, an insurer refused to defend its insured, a fire protection subcontractor.   The subcontractor had been third-partied into a construction defect lawsuit because the foam fire suppression system it installed had a failure resulting in the premature discharge of foam.  The owner sued the general contractor and the general contractor third-partied in the subcontractor.  However, the subcontractor’s CGL carrier refused its duty to defend the subcontractor from the third-party complaint because of the pollution exclusion in the CGL policy.  In other words, the insurer claimed that the foam the subcontractor installed constituted a pollutant within the meaning of the exclusion and, therefore, resulted in no coverage and, thus, no duty to defend the insured in the action.  

 

To determine the foam was a “pollutant”–which the policy defined as any “solid, liquid, gaseous or thermal irritant or contaminant, including smoke, vapor, soot, fumes, acids, alkalis, chemicals and waste”—the insurer relied on extrinsic evidence, specifically the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS Sheet) for the foam.   The insured objected to the insurer’s reliance on extrinsic evidence since it was beyond the scope of the insurer’s duty to defend which should be based on the allegations in the underlying complaint.  (The insurer tried to support its reliance on extrinsic evidence under a very limited exception that supports the reliance on extrinsic facts to form the refusal to defend when the extrinsic facts are uncontroverted and manifestly obvious, not normally alleged in the complaint, and that place the claim outside of coverage.  However, this is a very narrow exception that the court was not going to apply here.) 

 

It is important to consult with counsel if you have an issue with your insurer refusing to defend you in an underlying action and/or your insurer denies coverage.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

CGL INSURER’S DUTY TO DEFEND BROADER THAN DUTY TO INDEMNIFY AND BASED ON ALLEGATIONS IN UNDERLYING COMPLAINT


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The duty to defend an insured with respect to a third-party claim is broader than the duty to indemnify the insured for that claim.  The duty to defend is triggered by allegations in the underlying complaint. However, an insurer is only required to indemnify its insured for damages covered under the policy.   A recent case example demonstrating the duty to defend is broader than the duty to indemnify can be found in Southern Owners Ins. Co. v. Gallo Building Services, Inc., 2018 WL 6619987 (M.D.Fla. 2019).  

 

In this case, a homebuilder built a 270-unit condominium project where the units were included in 51-buildings.  Upon turnover of the condominium association to the unit owners, the condominium association served a Florida Statutes Chapter 558 Notice of Construction Defects letter. There was numerous nonconforming work spread out among various subcontractor trades including nonconforming stucco work.  The homebuilder incurred significant costs to repair defective work and resulting property damage, and relocated unit owners during repairs.  The homebuilder then filed a lawsuit against implicated subcontractors.  One of the implicated subcontractors was the stucco subcontractor.

 

 

The stucco subcontractor’s insurer filed an action for declaratory relief claiming it had NO duty to defend or indemnify the subcontractor in the underlying action because the subcontractor had a stucco/EIFS exclusion through an endorsement in its policy, referred tp as the “Exterior Finishing System and Stucco Exclusion.”  The subcontractor’s policy also did not contain a subcontractor exception to the “your work” exclusion.

 

Regarding the elimination of the subcontractor exception to the “your work” exclusion, the Court noted that the elimination of the subcontractor exception was largely irrelevant since the stucco subcontractor was a subcontractor so its work was not the entire project (unlike the homebuilder or general contractors’ work). Rather, the stucco subcontractor’s work was its scope of work and the underlying complaint referenced damages beyond the stucco subcontractor’s own work to other building components.  Thus, based on the allegations in the underlying complaint, the “your work” exclusion was not a basis to deny the duty to defend.

 

Regarding the stucco exclusion, the homebuilder argued that the subcontractor performed work outside of stucco work and the underlying complaint contained allegations unrelated to the application of stucco including framing work, miscellaneous work, and wrapping the buildings.  In other words, the Court did not have sufficient evidence that each allegation of nonconforming work related to the stucco subcontractor related to or arose out of the installation of stucco to trigger the full application of the stucco exclusion. Thus, this was not a basis to deny the subcontractor the duty to defend.

 

At this time, it is uncertain the magnitude of covered damages under the policy in light of the stucco exclusion and property damage resulting from the subcontractor’s defective work (certainly an issue to consider).  However, the insurer owed the subcontractor a duty to defend based on the allegations in the underlying complaint demonstrating the importance of crafting allegations in the underlying complaint.   The insurer’s indemnification obligation for covered damages, however, may be a different story and it is uncertain how a stucco subcontractor could have an endorsement that contains a stucco exclusion.  Take a look at your policy and, particularly, endorsements that further restrict coverage to ensure you do not have an exclusion relating to your own scope of work that would negate the value of the policy to you for property damage claims.

 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

CGL POLICIES AND THE PROFESSIONAL LIABILITIES EXCLUSION

shutterstock_1140059885Commercial general liability (CGL) policies for contractors traditionally contain a professional liabilities exclusion.  This exclusion is generally added through a specific endorsement to eliminate coverage for professional services. Read the endorsement   The point of the exclusion, in a nutshell, is simply to eliminate a CGL policy for a contractor serving as a professional liability policy. 

 

Contractors need to appreciate a professional liabilities exclusion added through endorsement because oftentimes there are delegated design components they are responsible for. Perhaps the contractor value engineered a system and is responsible for engineering and signing and sealing the engineered documents (through its subcontractor) associated with that system.  Perhaps there is a performance specification that requires the contractor to engineer a system.  Perhaps there is a design-build component.  Regardless of the circumstance, this professional liabilities exclusion can certainly come into play, particularly if a defect is raised with the design or professional services associated with the engineered system.

 

In a non-construction case dealing with a professional liabilities exclusion, the Second District Court of Appeal in Alicea Enterprises, Inc. v. Nationwise Ins. Co. of America, Inc., 43 Fla.L.Weekly D1713b (Fla. 2d DCA 2018) held:

 

Whether a professional service has, or has not, been rendered is a fact-intensive analysis.  Thus, when deciding whether an act arises out of the rendering of or failure to render a professional service, the court must focus on the act itself and not the character of the individual performing the act.  The act from which the claim arises must be related to a professional service that requires the use of professional judgment or skill. 

 

Id. (internal citations omitted).

 

 

In this case, the insurer issued a CGL policy to a pharmacy.   The pharmacy was sued in a negligence action.  The pharmacy’s CGL insurer filed an action for declaratory relief claiming it had neither a duty to defend nor indemnify its insured (the pharmacy) since the underlying claims arose out of professional services and the CGL policy contained a professional liabilities exclusion.

 

The Second District maintained, as to the insurer’s duty to defend its insured, that the insurer had a duty to defend the pharmacy (insured) in the negligence action because the allegations in the underlying complaint could be deemed unrelated to professional services. 

 

The Second District maintained, as to the insurer’s duty to indemnify its insured, that this duty is more fact-intensive and without sufficient discovery, there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the evidence brought the pharmacy’s conduct within the meaning of the professional liabilities exclusion in the CGL policy.

 

Here, while the pharmacy will get the benefit of the insurer’s duty to defend since that is triggered by the underlying complaint, the duty to indemnify is different and triggered by the facts.  It is likely that the facts in this case trigger the application of the professional liabilities exclusion, meaning the CGL insurer does NOT have a duty to indemnify the insured for the damages proven against it.  Not the situation an insured wants to be in!

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

GOOD OLE DUTY TO DEFEND

shutterstock_513564982The good ole duty to defend. Certainly, a duty that should not be overlooked.

 

A commercial general liability insurer has two duties to its insured when it comes to third-party claims: 1) the duty to defend its insured and 2) the duty to indemnify its insured.

 

The insurer’s duty to defend its insured will always be broader than its duty to indemnify because this duty is triggered by the allegations in the lawsuit.  (For this precise reason, insurers will oftentimes defend their insured under a reservation of rights.)  The duty to defend is a very important duty as it is the first duty that typically comes into play when a third-party claim / action is initiated against the insured.  Getting the insurer on board to provide a defense is an initial focus. One that cannot be neglected or overlooked.

 

If an insurer denies or refuses to defend its insured, this means the insurer is denying coverage outright.  In other words, the insurer is coming out of the gate denying the duty to indemnify the insured and, as such, denying the duty to defend.  There is no reservation of rights because the insurer is not going to provide a defense based on its denial of coverage.  When this happens, it is imperative that the insured consult with counsel.  Not later or tomorrow or down the road.   But, now!  Immediately.  At a minimum, an insured wants to ensure that its insurer is picking-up the broader duty to defend and needs to make sure its rights are protected and preserved.

 

In Mid-Continent Casualty Company v. Flora-Tech PlantScapes, Inc., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D1649a (Fla. 3d DCA 2017), a general contractor initiated a third-party claim against a landscaper in a personal injury action.  (It is uncertain whether the landscaper was hired by the general contractor or the developer.)  The  landscaper’s commercial general liability insurer denied coverage and, therefore, refused to defend the insured in the lawsuit. As a result, the landscaper initiated a fourth-party claim against its own insurer for coverage seeking a declaration that its insurer had a duty to defend it in the lawsuit and indemnify it for the third-party claims being asserted against it.   Both the landscaper and its insurer filed motions for summary judgment and the trial court declared that the insurer had a duty to defend its insured, but that it was not making a determination as to the insurer’s duty to indemnify.  From the insured-landscaper’s standpoint, this likely was fine because the landscaper was initially looking for a declaration that its insurer had a duty to provide it a defense in the personal injury action.

 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

SUBCONTRACTOR’S LIABILITY INSURER’S DUTY TO DEFEND THE “ADDITIONAL INSURED” GENERAL CONTRACTOR

shutterstock_306317915Construction projects can lead to insurance coverage disputes.  One such dispute arises when a general contractor is sued for construction defects and resulting property damage and it tenders the defense of the claim / lawsuit to an implicated subcontractor’s liability insurer.  A general contractor does this because it (hopefully) will be an additional insured under the subcontractor’s liability policy.  Being identified as an additional insured under a subcontractor’s liability policy is imperative for a general contractor as part of its normal risk assessment. The issue will typically come up in any construction defect lawsuit because if the general contractor is an additional insured it will, and should, tender the defense of the lawsuit to implicated subcontractors’ insurers. 

 

Sometimes, a subcontractor’s liability insurer will deny the duty to defend the general contractor.  Yes, this happens.  When it does, the general contractor’s insurer will provide a defense to the general contractor but may pursue the subcontractor’s insurer for reimbursement of fees and costs based on the general contractor being an additional insured under the subcontractor’s liability policy.

 

For example, in Travelers Property Casualty Co. of America v. Amerisure Ins. Co., 161 F.Supp.3d 113 (N.D.Fla. 2015), the general contractor’s liability insurer (Travelers) sued a stucco subcontractor’s liability insurer (Amerisure) where the underlying issue was whether the general contractor was an additional insured under the subcontractor’s liability policy.  The subcontractor’s insurer refused to defend the general contractor in an underlying construction defect lawsuit.  The general contractor’s insurer provided a defense in the underlying lawsuit and sued the subcontractor’s insurer for reimbursement.  

 

Under Florida law, a liability insurer’s duty to defend extends to an entire lawsuit if any claim in the lawsuit may come within the policy’s coverage.”  Travelers Property Casualty Co., 161 F.Supp.3d at 1137.    The underlying complaint against the general contractor alleged property damage caused by defective stucco installation.  This meant that the complaint triggered the duty to defend and the Court held the general contractor was an additional insured under the subcontractor’s liability policy.  For this reason, the Court maintained that the subcontractor’s insurer (Amerisure) owed the general contractor’s insurer (Travelers) the reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in the defense of the general contractor in the underlying lawsuit:

 

When Amerisure [subcontractors’ insurer] failed to step up, Travelers [general contractor’s insurer] did what Amerisure should have done: Travelers provided Yates [general contractor] a defense. The attorneys Travelers hired chose to defend the case not only by answering the claims but also by asserting third-party claims against subcontractors, including Jemco [stucco subcontractor]. Travelers paid the fees and costs incurred in connection with the third-party claims, apparently concluding that this was the best strategy for defending the claims and that its duty to defend Yates thus obligated it to pay for the third-party claims as well. There is support for that view. 

***

Had Amerisure provided a defense as it should have done, the attorneys it hired might or might not have made the  same strategic decision as the attorneys hired by Travelers. But now Amerisure can complain, at most, about unreasonable decisions, not about decisions that reasonably could have gone either way. As a leading commentator has put it, when an insurer breaches its duty to defend,

the insured is justified in assuming the defense of the action and is released from the contractual obligation to leave the management of the case to the insurer. Not only does the insurer lose the power to control the defense or dictate to the insured how the case should be handled, but the insurer cannot complain about the conduct of the defense by the insured or the negligent handling of the case by the insured’s attorney.

 

Travelers Property Casualty Co. of America, 161 F.Supp.3d at 1138-39 (internal citations omitted).

 

 

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

SHOULD CGL INSURER HAVE DUTY TO DEFEND INSURED DURING CHAPTER 558 NOTICE OF CONSTRUCTION DEFECTS PROCESS???

UnknownDoes a CGL insurer have a duty to defend its insured-contractor during Florida Statutes Chapter 558 notice of construction defects pre-suit process?  This answer is currently undecided and will be up to the Florida Supreme Court to decide.  (It is on appeal stemming from a federal district court saying that an insurer does not have a duty to defend its insured-contractor in the 558 process based on the definition of the word “suit” in the CGL policy.)

 

Why is this an important issue?

 

The 558 pre-suit notice of construction defects process is designed to facilitate an avenue for construction defect lawsuits to get resolved without having to file a lawsuit or, at least, have issues narrowed before a lawsuit needs to be filed.  (Check here for a summary of the 558 process.)  It requires pre-suit notifications so that implicated parties can become aware of the defects and have an opportunity to inspect the defects / damage, test the defects / damage, and respond to the notice of construction defects; it provides an avenue for beneficial pre-suit discovery.  Through participating in the 558 process, the contractor and/or design professional (and those downstream from them) can:  (i) offer to remedy the defect, (ii) settle the defect, whether through money or a combination of money and repairs, (iii) dispute the defect, or (iv) advise that available insurance proceeds will be determined by its  liability insurer.  See Fla. Stat. s. 558.004.

 

There are definitely some pros and cons to the 558 pre-suit process.  There is no doubt about this.  But, if the insured-contractor’s insurer is not on board with the process, then it invariably will fail (unless the defects are relatively minor in nature).  Why will it fail?  Because 558 notice of construction defect letters can contain an extensive laundry list of defects–some minor, some major and complicated.  This means that the insured-contractor really needs an expert or experts on board to truly analyze these issues from a liability and damages standpoint including the most cost effective approach to remedy the defects and corresponding damage.  This, as you can imagine, is costly.  The insured-contractor also wants to know that if a monetary settlement is made, the settlement includes insurance proceeds for damages covered by the CGL policy.  

 

All of this can really only effectively take place if the insurer defends the insured-contractor in this process to best assess its risk and any forthcoming lawsuit that should (hopefully) nevertheless trigger the insurer’s duty to defend its insured-contractor.   Hence, there is no reason for the insurer not be engaged in the process and defend its insured-contractor, at least under a reservation of rights.  Unfortunately, if the liability insurer disengages from the process and is not willing to defend its insured in the process, then the insured-contractor in many instances is best-off waiting for that lawsuit that will then (a) trigger the insurer’s duty to defend and (b) require the insurer to now incur the costs of the defense, including experts, to defend its insured.  By the insurer not defending its insured-contractor earlier, such as the 558 process, all it is doing is inviting an expensive multi-party lawsuit and not educating itself of the nature of the defects and damage (i.e., its risk assessment) so that efforts can be made to resolve the defect claim, narrow the issues, or develop the framework of the defense.

 

  

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

 

 

QUICK NOTE: CGL INSURER LIABLE FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES IF IT UNJUSTIFIABLY REFUSED TO PROVIDE YOU DEFENSE

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If your CGL (or liability) insurer unjustifiably refuses to provide you a defense in a lawsuit, the insurer is liable for the reasonable attorney’s fees and costs you incur in defending that lawsuit.  The operative word is “unjustifiably.”  For instance, if you get sued and your CGL insurer refuses to provide you a defense and you retain private counsel to defend you, the CGL insurer will be liable for your attorney’s fees and costs if it should have provided you a duty defend in connection with that suit.  Of course, on the other hand, if the CGL insurer justifiably refused to defend you (based on the allegations in the lawsuit / claim and coverage under the policy) then it will not be liable for your reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.